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Predictions For The 2016 Notre Dame Offense

The 2015 offense was the best Notre Dame has fielded since the Brady Quinn led unit back in 2005, and expectations remain high for that unit.

Notre Dame is looking to make a run at the College Football Playoffs, and if that is going to happen, it is expected that the offense will have to carry the day.

Blue & Gold Illustrated staff members Lou Somogyi, Matt Jones and Bryan Driskell already made their overall predictions for the 2016 season for the Irish, predictions for the Heisman Trophy and predictions for the playoffs.

Now the staff focuses on the offense. Here is a look at the predictions each is making for the 2016 offense.

LOU SOMOGYI, SENIOR EDITOR

1. Tarean Folston will eclipse 1,000 yards rushing: Notre Dame has had only two 1,000-yard rushers in head coach Brian Kelly’s first six seasons. In 2016, a healthy Folston will surpass the 1,000-yard mark, marking the first time in Kelly’s tenure that the offense has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back season.

2. The Quarterback position will total more than 800 rushing yards between them: Notre Dame’s three quarterbacks accounted for 719 rushing yards last season, but will pass that number in 2016. Senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer will account for over 800 rushing yards. The only other time that occurred was in 1988 and 1989 with Tony Rice, but this will be a real “dual threat” with two QBs.

3. Notre Dame will finish with a 220-yard rushing average: After putting together the best rushing season since 2000, Notre Dame will be even better this season, surpassing the 220-per game mark. That would be the most since the 269.5 average it had in current running back coach Autry Denson’s sophomore year in 1996.

4. Junior tight end Nic Weishar will catch at least 26 pass: Notre Dame’s tight ends had just 20 receptions for 233 yards and zero touchdowns – combined. Expect Weishar to surpass those marks all by himself. His 26+ catch season comes out to two per game after grabbing only three last year.

5. Notre Dame will average 35.8 points per game: Notre Dame’s scoring average has steadily rose each of the last three seasons. It averaged 25.8 points per game in 2012, 27.2 in 2013, 32.8 in 2014 and a high under Kelly of 34.2 points per game last season. That rise will continue this season, giving the Irish their highest scoring average since 36.7 points a game in 2005. The school record is still 37.6 in 1968.

MATT JONES, STAFF WRITER

1. The offense will stumble against Texas: Though Notre Dame will still eke out a road win — thanks to a few key fourth-quarter plays — the first half against the Longhorns won’t be pretty from an offensive perspective. No matter how Brian Kelly splits the reps between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, the Irish offense won’t be firing on all cylinders in Week 1. I expect a slow start (setting off panic in the fan base) and a few crucial halftime adjustments to be the deciding factor against Texas.

2. Tarean Folston rebounds from a knee injury and eclipses 1,000 yards: Folston was heading in this direction until a devastating knee injury on his third carry of 2015 ended his season. With No. 3 running back Dexter Williams’ situation still unresolved after an Aug. 19 arrest, it’ll be Folston and sophomore Josh Adams getting most of the action. Look for Folston to reassert himself atop the depth chart and thrive, showing no signs of the injury and getting back to 2014 form.

3. Notre Dame allows 20 or fewer sacks: Despite losing two NFL draft picks in Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley, the Irish will improve on their 26 sacks allowed in 2015. With a pair of experienced quarterbacks expected to see action and a formidable left side of tackle Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, the Notre Dame quarterbacks will have plenty of time to throw in 2016.

4. C.J. Sanders returns multiple punts for touchdowns: A revelation in preseason practice, Sanders has the athleticism that can change games. He’s rebounded nicely from a hip injury that held him out of spring practice, and will also be a focal piece of Notre Dame’s offense. But the shifty Sanders has the tools to break open games in the return department and score two touchdowns or more, something just 12 players did in 2015.

5. Notre Dame finishes in the top-25 in red zone offense: A weakness in 2015 — the Irish converted 53 red zone attempts into points just 81.1 percent of the time, which ranked 88th in the country — Notre Dame will greatly improve that percentage in 2016. With two weapons at quarterback, good depth at running back and a strong left side of the offensive line, the Irish won’t duplicate their 2015 struggles. For an idea of what a top-25 red zone offense does, the 25th-ranked team last season (Oklahoma) converted at an 88.4-percent clip.

BRYAN DRISKELL, FOOTBALL ANALYST

1. Notre Dame will have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers: Last season, Notre Dame set a number of offensive school records. The Irish averaged 7.0 yards per play, a program best. Its 5.6 yards per rush is the new modern record. Notre Dame will set another record this season by producing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history. It was something the offense was pushing to achieve in 2011 before Jonas Gray was lost for the season, but it will break down that barrier this season. Senior Tarean Folston and sophomore Josh Adams will be the two backs to surpass that mark this fall.

2. Notre Dame will have a pair of All-American offensive linemen: When you produce a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, the odds of producing a pair of All-American linemen isn’t a stretch. Senior Mike McGlinchey will be Notre Dame’s second straight All-American left tackle, and junior Quenton Nelson will also earn All-American honors. Junior right tackle Alex Bars will get a great deal of praise, much like McGlinchey did last season opposite Stanley, but the two veterans will anchor the Irish line.

3. Torii Hunter Jr. will not be Notre Dame’s big-play receiver this season: I predict that Hunter will lead the team in receptions and probably lead in receiving yards. He will make his fair share of big plays, but sophomores Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders will be Notre Dame’s two home run threats this season. Having a savvy veteran like Hunter, improved play at the tight end position and a dominant run game will put St. Brown and Sanders in a lot of one-on-one situations, and by the middle of the season – if it takes that long – they will prove to be Notre Dame’s home run threats.

4. Durham Smythe will stay healthy and be Notre Dame’s best tight end: Junior Nic Weishar might make more catches, and a real solid season from Weishar would not be a surprise in the very least. It will be Smythe, however, that has the biggest impact. Smythe will have a Ben Koyack type season as a pass catcher, working the middle zones and underneath routes in order to move the chains. It will be his work in the run game that truly sets him apart from Weishar, making him an integral part of the Notre Dame offense.

5. Neither quarterback will quite live up to expectations: Had one quarterback been named the starter, that player would have had a chance to have a truly special season. If neither is named the primary quarterback by the time the Texas game kicks off, whoever ends up as the number one guy will not be quite as good as expected. The only way this changes is if one of the quarterbacks lights it up in week one and then is named the full-time starter. If that doesn’t happen, both quarterbacks will likely spend all season looking over their shoulder.

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